December 11, 2019 / 2:51 PM / 8 months ago

Chilean lawmakers censure ex-interior minister over rights abuses

SANTIAGO (Reuters) - Chile’s Senate voted on Wednesday to strip a former interior minister of his right to hold public office, saying he failed to prevent human rights abuses by security forces during days of violent protests.

Chile's former interior minister, Andres Chadwick, attends a session at the congress in Valparaiso, Chile December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Garrido

Andres Chadwick, a cousin and close confidant of center-right President Sebastian Pinera, resigned under pressure shortly after protests began in October, part of a cabinet shake-up designed to quell increasingly violent riots.

In a 12-hour marathon session, senators voted 23-18 to punish the ex-interior minister, accusing him of violating the Constitution by failing to stem human rights violations. Lawmakers also said Chadwick failed to maintain public order as chaos swept through the country.

Nearly two months of protests over inequality have rocked Chile, leaving at least 26 dead, thousands injured and billions of dollars of damage in the once-stable South American nation.

The motions to censure Chadwick required a simple majority in both the House and the Senate. Chadwick is now barred from holding public office for five years.

The vote comes just hours before the Chamber of Deputies is slated to consider a motion on Thursday to impeach Pinera over similar allegations. The hurdles to impeach Pinera, however, are much higher, requiring a two-thirds majority in the Senate.

International rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have ratcheted up pressure on the Pinera administration for its handling of the crisis, citing abuses by police ranging from rape to torture.

“This is not a personal attack on Andres Chadwick,” said Senator Isabel Allende of the opposition Socialist party during the day-long vote. “There is proof that human rights violations were committed that could have been avoided.”

The Chilean Ophthalmological Society has said more than 200 people suffered severe eye trauma in the demonstrations, mostly due to police rubber bullets.

Pinera acknowledged some abuses by security forces and promised investigations and deep reforms to police protocols. But both Pinera and his ministers have repeatedly denied that they deliberately facilitated the violations.

Chadwick, himself a former lawmaker, told many of his former colleagues in the Senate late Tuesday he was innocent of the charges.

“Never in my time as interior minister have I taken any action or measure, deliberate or otherwise, to permit the abuse of the human rights of any individual,” Chadwick said.

Reporting by Dave Sherwood and Natalia Ramos; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Kenneth Maxwell

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